Early documentation of the socioeconomic “gap” in childhood obesity was provided in the early 1970’s by researchers from the US, who observed excess rates of obesity in children from low-income families, particularly girls. This gap has to a large extent persisted in all affluent parts of the world, and has started to appear in low/middle income countries. The first part of this talk will focus on the current socioeconomic gradient in childhood obesity, from a European perspective. Secondly, we will consider whether recent overall stability in obesity rates observed in different regions may be masking profound socioeconomic inequalities in the course of the epidemic. The final part of the presentation will describe recent systematic reviews on primary prevention of obesity in children through diet and physical activity interventions.
The overall evidence on how to prevent childhood obesity is generally agreed to be insufficient, and none of the systematic reviews specifically examines whether the impact of interventions varies in relation to socioeconomic background. In conclusion, it is not understood why the obesity epidemic in children appears to have slowed down, nor do we know how to design effective primary preventive interventions. More attention to socioeconomic aspects will probably shed light on both of these questions.

Lauren Lissner MPH PhD is a Professor of Epidemiology and heads the section for Public Health Epidemiology at the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine in Gothenburg. Professor Lissner’s main research interests are nutritional epidemiology and obesity research. She is also the coordinating PI of the EpiLife Center at the University of Gothenburg, funded by FORTE. For more information on EpiLife please see: www.epilife.se.